Friday, May 23, 2014

Weekend Reading: The Reckoning with Racism Edition

I've had a pretty good week. I did not write as many blog posts as I thought I would, but I got a lot of other writing done- my goal for the week was to complete a draft of my short ebook about running a non-academic job search, and I did that. It clocks in at over 12,000 words, but at least 2/3 of those were already written in blog posts. I was stitching them together, amplifying some sections, and adding a section about figuring out what jobs to go after. I was so successful in my writing that I added a stretch goal of going through one round of revisions on the manuscript, and promptly failed to meet that.

Mr. Snarky was on a business trip all week, so I've also been doing more than my usual share of parenting, although that has been counterbalanced by the fact that my parents arrived Tuesday night. Still, I've taken the kids to swim lessons and out to dinner after said lessons, gone (with my parents and Petunia) to Pumpkin's open house, and gone (with my parents and Pumpkin) to Petunia's day care ice cream social and her soccer lessons. And I bought some new bras, which might be the most difficult thing I did all week. (Menfolk: I am not joking. You have no idea.)

I had hoped to get my business bank account set up, but my tax ID number had not arrived by this morning, so I went ahead and did the personal banking I needed to do after lunch. Of course, when I arrived home, my tax ID had arrived. I made an appointment to set up my business bank account next Wednesday.

I also read all sorts of different things online, but since Ta-Nehisi Coates' piece The Case for Reparations went online this week, there was a lot of really good discussion about racism in America, and I think I'll focus this post on that.

First of all, if you are a white American and haven't read Ta-Nehisi Coates' piece in the Atlantic yet, I encourage you to go do so. Warning: it will take at least an hour, but it is well worth the time investment. It is called The Case for Reparations, but to me, it was more the case for an honest reckoning and discussion, which might very well lead to some form of reparations. If you think you do not support reparations because slavery was a long time ago and your ancestors came after it ended... go read the piece, anyway.  As Gene Demby points out, the piece doesn't focus much on slavery. The majority of the history lesson is from the 20th century, and has to do with how our government's policies created the gap in wealth between black and white families. Really, go read the piece. Coates is an extraordinarily talented writer, and he makes the subject matter easy to read without softening the blow that the historical facts necessarily deliver.

After you have read Coates' piece, read Alexis Madrigal's short piece about how redlining impacted California cities, and definitely click through to look at the maps Josh Begley put together showing the redlining data for California cities based on the data from the T-RACES project, and then click on some squares on the maps to read the summaries written by the federal government of some of the parts of town. Remember, this was policy that was implemented in the 1930s, and officially continued until 1968. I would argue, based on the experiences I and some of my friends have had working with realtors during a cross-country relocation, that racism in housing continues informally today. When I moved from San Diego to New Jersey, the realtor I worked with made sure I knew which areas were primarily white and which were not, all without saying anything about race. A friend had the exact same experience when being relocated from the East coast to San Diego. Racism in the housing market is not limited to the purchase of homes- as Donald Sterling has recently demonstrated, there is racism in the rental market, too. Basically, if you are a white person living in any sort of housing, you have benefited from racism. That is an uncomfortable thing to acknowledge, but I think we must acknowledge it.

Coates' piece does an excellent job of summarizing a complex topic for a general audience, but as he acknowledges, his piece would not have been possible without the work of scholars who have long studied the subject of reparations. William Darity is one of them, and Demos has a nice interview with him.

Coates also published a short blog post describing his path to writing The Case for Reparations, and one of the things that drove him to reconsider his views on the subject (he was initially opposed to the idea of reparations) was the impact of the racist housing policies on educational opportunities.

However, the evidence shows that educational equality will not solve all of our problems with racism. Go read Tressie McMillan Cottom's piece about how equal educational attainment does not in fact translate to equal opportunities for black people.

I think we white Americans need to find a way to really engage with the subjects these links cover. Our schools almost certainly didn't teach us the history Coates summarizes, and far too many of us remain ignorant of our implicit biases, which only serves to perpetuate them and the unequal opportunities McMillan Cottom discusses. Until we face that history and really reckon with it, we can have no hope of finding our way to the more just future I think that most of us would like to see. I think there is a lot of fear of what will happen if we really truly reckon with the great injustices that we have committed in the past, and that is understandable. No one can know what will happen if we open the conversation Coates' advocates. But we don't really know what will happen if we don't reckon with our past, either. Inaction is a choice, too, and not necessarily a safe one. I personally hope that Coates' powerful article helps to catalyze a reckoning that has been far too long in coming, and that we can find our way to really fulfilling the promise of the ideals of our nation's founding.

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